Are Online Graduate Degrees Accredited?

Higher education is becoming increasingly relevant to career success, and more adult students are turning to online graduate degrees to improve their credentials. In 2012, US News and World Report published their first guide to online college programs, including master’s level graduate programs. While many online programs have established solid reputations with employers, others charge high tuition for a poor quality education that does not prepare students for master’s level roles within their field. Accreditation is one of the most important benchmarks of whether a graduate program is up to industry and academic standards. Understanding the importance of accreditation and knowing how to identify the accreditation status of an online graduate program is key to success in choosing a school.

The Importance of Accreditation

Unfortunately, the online format makes it easier for subpar graduate programs to create plausible marketing that can entrap potential students in high-cost, low-output degree tracks. Accreditation is important because accredited schools are those that have met rigorous quality standards. These standards are developed and confirmed by a third-party agency that ensures programs are providing the necessary curriculum and study outcomes. Only students who graduate from accredited schools are allowed to sit for professional certification exams. Accreditation can also make the difference in successfully transferring credits should the student want to go on to earn a second master’s degree or a doctorate.

Accreditation Agencies

Online graduate degree programs are accredited through the same process as traditional schools and universities. Independent agencies that develop quality standards based on academic and professional benchmarks make a thorough review of the program’s operations to determine its eligibility for accreditation. This investigation includes a detailed look at a school’s finance, retention rates, curriculum, and post-secondary job placement of graduates within their field of study. Accreditation certificates must be renewed periodically, and many agencies perform unannounced visits or reviews to ensure the program is keeping up satisfactory practices. Accrediting agencies are generally organized by region, and online schools will most often apply for accreditation based on their physical office location or business address. Though many accredited traditional schools have online degree programs, potential students should investigate whether the existing accreditation specifically extends to the online programs.

Read: 30 Best Online Schools for Graduate Degrees

Recognized Accreditation Agencies

While many agencies can form with the purpose of offering accreditation to schools, only agencies recognized by the US Department of Education should be considered credible. Alongside the rise of online graduate programs, new accrediting agencies have formed. Many of these are not officially recognized, making them unreliable in judging the true quality of an institution. Students should recognize that only schools accredited by recognized agencies are eligible for federal student aid. There are a few ways to verify the credibility of an online school’s accreditation. Program websites will usually list their accrediting agency. From there, applicants can verify that the program’s accreditation is current through the agency’s website. Finally, students should investigate the agency through the US Department of Education’s website to determine their official recognition status.

Online options are making continuing education degrees more accessible to busy professionals of all backgrounds. Students who choose online graduate degrees from programs accredited by recognized agencies are on the road to greater career success.

Source: US News and World Report